Saturday, August 30, 2014

FIU's Pete Garcia has picked a fight he can't win [UPDATED x3]

Video by Miami Herald sportswriter David J. Neal


UPDATED @ 9:10 p.m.: Neal tells Deadspin, "I know there are things that I've written that have pissed them [FIU] off. I made a video [above] with a montage of FIU's attendance from football games last season, and it showed Pete Garcia got a $19,000 attendance bonus."


UPDATED @ 6:15 p.m. with tweets from @DavidJNeal:


UPDATED Aug. 30 @ 5:30 p.m.: WPLG reports that FIU issued a statement Saturday explaining why sports reporter David Neal was denied a credential:
We did not issue a media credential to the Herald's beat reporter because of concerns we have brought up to the Herald's reporter and editors over the past few years about the reporter's interactions with our student athletes, coaches, and staff, and the nature of the resulting coverage. He is not banned from FIU or FIU Stadium. He just does not have additional access beyond that of the public.

We welcome media coverage of our athletics program that is professional and respectful of our student athletes and our institution.

We will be meeting with the Herald's leadership in the next few days. We hope to reach a resolution and continue a positive working relationship.


It appears that FIU athletic director Pete Garcia has never heard of the famous Mark Twain adage: "Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel."

Yesterday we learned that Garcia has denied Miami Herald sports reporter David Neal a credential to cover FIU's home opener against Bethune-Cookman today.

From the Herald story by Linda Robertson:
For the first time since FIU created a football team, the Miami Herald will not cover the Panthers’ home season opening game Saturday because the school has refused to provide a press credential to the newspaper’s beat reporter.

FIU athletics officials denied the Herald’s request for a game pass for reporter David J. Neal, who has been covering FIU sports since June, 2011. Passes were granted for a Herald columnist and photographer.

No explanation was given by FIU, but Neal’s access to FIU coaches and athletes had been dwindling for months, to the point where he was no longer permitted to attend football practice or conduct interviews. Last week, when Neal attempted to write a story on the FIU women’s soccer team, he was told no one was allowed to talk to him.

“It’s unprecedented for any local team to refuse to credential our beat reporter without reason,” Miami Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said of the four pro and two college teams the Herald covers on a regular basis. “The team does not get to choose who covers the program.”
In a blog post this morning, Herald sports columnist Greg Cote writes,
Garcia evidently is upset with Neal over a couple of stories the school would rather have [...] seen not written, so he chose a strong-arm tactic from a point of weakness. He entered a battle he could not win. FIU, dying for coverage and attention in the long shadow of UM, has just alienated the only media outlet that regularly covers it. Welcome to the real world, Pete Garcia.
Garcia's reign has been full of power grabs and strange decisions. The real stunning thing is that none of Garcia's superiors -- no FIU administrator -- has shown the spine (or belief in the First Amendment, or common sense) to stand up to him. Until somebody does, FIU football will wear the shame of this.

Here at Random Pixels, anything having to do with FIU's sports program is about the same as that lost Malaysian plane: Not on our radar screen.

So I had to do a little digging to find out which of Neal's stories may have "upset" Garcia.

Robertson's story says Neal's access has been dwindling for months.

It's a safe bet the friction between Neal and Garcia may have started with, or been exacerbated by, a story from last February that began like this: "Dennis Wiseman, a former FIU pitching ace, received the honor of throwing out the first pitch of FIU’s baseball season Saturday afternoon. That’s also Dennis Wiseman, registered sex offender since 1997, when he was charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor. [...] An FIU spokesman said director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia was not available for comment."

And here's a blog post Neal wrote last Tuesday - the day before the Herald says Neal's request for a credential was denied - that may offer some clues. It appears that many of those leaving comments on the post have been aware for some time of the friction between Neal and Garcia:
If I were a newspaper, and I was covering a school that no one really followed EXCEPT alumni, students, graduates, would I want to reinforce to the few readers that I have how terrible their school is? How embarrassing we as fans (and readers) are? Do I think that message is really going to resonate with my readers? I support the PG boycott, I'm tired of the cheap shots and the back handed compliments. I love my school DJN, and so do the majority of your readers. Think about that before you tell us how horrible it is and we are.

When this is all over, my guess is that Pete Garcia - and NOT David Neal - will be looking for a new job.

The Sun-Sentinel's Dave Hyde lists the reasons that may happen:
Where do you want to start with how dumb this is by FIU? A school of higher education attempting to censor media coverage? An athletic department that gets scant headlines refusing to let the one outlet that regularly covers it to, well, cover it?

Or how about an athletic department that seems infatuated with not just making dumb decisions - but with making loud, dumb decisions?

Let's see if there's a common thread to some of the biggest blunders. In 2009, FIU athletic director Pete Garcis hired Isiah Thomas out of nowhere as basketball coach. It made little sense considering Thomas' embarrassing run as a New York Knicks executive, much less the fact he had never coached in college. Well, it made no sense to anyone except Garcia, who said at the time, "No one thought we could pull this off."

Thomas went 26-65 in three seasons before being fired.

Next came the decision to fire football coach Mario Cristobal, whose local ties and good building took the FIU program from nowhere to consecutive bowl games in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, when the program suffered from injuries and a bad year to go 3-9, Garcia suddenly fired Cristobal.

"We'd gone backwards,'' Garcia said at the time.

They went 1-11 last season.

Now comes another strange headline: Garcia has banned Neal from covering FIU - and won't say why, according to the Herald. The first, public evidence of something strange there was when FIU canceled its football media day because Neal was planning to cover it (FIU is part of his responsibilities).

Look, sometimes it's part of our world that people don't like the reporters that cover them. And sometimes reporters don't like the peoplpe they cover. But there's a professional way to get through that, especially if you're a school of higher learning that gets little attention to begin with.

But play the censorship card?


What exactly are they teaching at FIU?

All this leaves me wondering why no one at the school reached out to Miami Herald management if there was an issue with Neal's reporting.

Abruptly cutting off access, with no notice, to the one media outlet in town that covers FIU's sports program on a regular basis seems like a boneheaded move. But as Hyde points out, boneheaded moves and Pete Garcia go hand in hand.

Neal, for the most part has remained silent. He wasn't even quoted in the Herald's story.

But this morning he broke his silence with this tweet:

But we're letting filmmaker Billy Corben have the last word on this:

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